April 06, 2020
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Bruce Poliquin has a chance to make his mark, emulate Maine’s environmental heroes

George Danby | BDN
George Danby | BDN

One year ago, we proposed on these pages that Maine’s congressional delegation take bipartisan action on climate change. This would continue Maine’s long history as a leader in shaping environmental policy.

Under the sponsorship of Sen. Edmund Muskie and Republican Sen. Howard Baker, both the Clean Air Act (1970) and the Clean Water Act (1972) passed Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support. In 1987 and in 1990, Sen. George Mitchell significantly improved air and water quality laws.

Maine’s national and state leaders — Muskie, Mitchell, Bill Cohen, Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, Angus King, Harry Richardson, Joe Brennan, Horace Hildreth, Ken Curtis, Jon Lund, and Jock McKernan, among others — distinctively dug in and mastered the facts of the environmental issues they tackled.

They saw Maine as especially vulnerable to environmeferntal hazards. Our tourists, loggers, farmers, and fishermen all depend on the pristine integrity of our climate. Coal smoke, auto exhaust, sulfur and ozone drift over Maine on prevailing winds from cities to our west. Our forests, lakes, rivers and saltwater coasts have been prominent victims of acid rain and septic discharge.

How fitting that our successful political leaders should become environmental heroes.

While battles of the past are hardly over, the engagement has shifted to a new and broader front: climate change. Maine is once again in the gunsights of the threat. Lobsters hate warm water. Coastal homes — from Pine Point to Kittery — can be flooded by a slight rise in sea level. Our lumber forests, spruce and fir, are cold-weather trees. Ski resorts die without snow. Clams don’t grow shells in acid water.

We urge Rep.-elect Bruce Poliquin to join with Maine’s delegation to mitigate the dire effects of climate change. A few in Washington absurdly deny that humans are changing the climate. Too many others avoid the topic. They simply shrug and say, “I am not a scientist.”

But understanding science is part and parcel of effective governing. That job is much easier today as scientists have made unprecedented efforts to communicate their climate findings.Recommended reading on climate includes:

The IPCC Fifth Assessment Synthesis Report Summary for Policymakers (2014): “Human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history.”

What We Know,” from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2014): “The sooner we act, the lower the risk and cost. … Waiting to take action will inevitably increase costs, escalate risk, and foreclose options to address the risk.”

U.S. National Climate Assessment (2014): “[T]he rapid warming of the past half-century is due primarily to human activities. The observed warming and other climatic changes are triggering wide-ranging impacts in every region of our country and throughout our economy.”

The 3% Solution: Driving Profits Through Carbon Reduction,” by the firm CDP (2013): The “annual reduction of greenhouse gas emissions of approximately 3 percent per year … can create a present value of net savings up to $190 billion in 2020 for the U.S. corporate sector, excluding utilities.”

Maine’s Climate Future,” by the University of Maine Climate Change Institute (2009) and updated in a recent lecture by Professor Ivan Fernandez: Among other findings, the incidence of extreme precipitation events in Maine is often twice as high as in the past, particularly along Maine’s heavily populated coastal regions.

Action to reduce greenhouse gases is good for business and good for jobs. Intelligent carbon reduction investments deliver a high return. The net cost to reduce greenhouse gases is relatively trivial in the context of the world’s economy.

Although oil and gas are cheap right now, Maine enjoys less comparative benefit from recent price drops. Because we are at the end of the supply line for fossil fuels, they will always be more costly here. Maine doesn’t mine coal, pump oil or drill for natural gas. Every dollar we pay for fossil fuels is a dollar drained from Maine’s economy.

However, Maine does have huge untapped potential for offshore wind, tidal power, biofuels, and solar energy. Expanding the use of these alternatives will make Maine more economically independent and generate good jobs here.

We hope Poliquin will seize the opportunity to emulate the many environmental heroes Maine has consistently sent to Washington to engage in constructive bipartisan work on this vital issue.

Peter Mills, a lifelong Republican, is executive director of the Maine Turnpike Authority and a former state senator from Somerset County. He was twice a candidate for governor in GOP primaries. Sharon S. Tisher, a lifelong Democrat, is a lecturer in the School of Economics and the Honors College at the University of Maine. She is a member of the Maine chapter of the national Scholars Strategy Network, which brings together scholars across the country to address public challenges and their policy implications. Members’ columns appear in the BDN every other week.


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